sleep

From Owen & James’s Room, 9:07pm

Owen: “Stop petting me! I’m not an animal!”

James: laughing

Owen: “I said stop petting me! I’m playing people! I’m a people! NOT AN AMINAL!”

James: laughing

Owen: “A PEOPLE! WE ARE PLAYING PEOPLE NOW! NOT ANIMALS! STOP PETTING ME!

a moment of silence from both of them

James: crying, and then “Mama!”

“What strange creatures brothers are!” —Jane Austen

Go. To. Sleep.

Sophie (at 9:37pm, after asking for a glass of water, while both boys are screaming for me): “Why are you a little stompy right now?”

I guess the hardwood floor in her room did a poor job of hiding tonight’s frustration.

“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Bear-Hug Timeout

I’m typing this while sitting on the floor in James and Owen’s bedroom. Every minute or so I look up and look them in the eyes—they’re looking at me, waiting. Waiting for me to spend too long looking at my computer. Waiting for me to get up and help Sophie with something. Waiting for their chance to get out of bed.

I promised them a trip to the library but only if naptime goes well. I’m worried about this, because Sophie deserves a trip to the library regardless of how Owen and James nap. But after yesterday, I had to try something new. Because yesterday, I was ready to quit my job as parent, at least during naptime. (Can you hire someone to do naps for you?)

I used to let Owen and James have whatever they wanted in bed during naptime (rookie move). Now they get one small toy (like a train engine), their stuffed bear and one book.

Yesterday they each lost all of those things, one by one, in about 10 minutes.

And still, they jumped up and down in bed. They got out of bed. While I was “super nanny-ing” one right back into bed the other would get out, run around the room, grab another toy, laugh.

They had turned it into a game.

Short of taking away their sheets and blankets, I wasn’t sure what to do next—until James swiped a toy from the bedroom floor, while I was putting Owen back in bed.

“Next time one of you gets out of bed, I’m taking every single toy out of your room.”

They both got out of bed.

I’m not always great about following through. This time, I did. They watched me, mouths open, as I picked up every single toy in their room and placed everything in the hall—including their tracks on their train table.

I won.

Or so I thought.

With all the tracks off the train table, they decided it was the perfect stage to dance on. Cue the jumping out of bed, running to the train table, climbing up on it and dancing. While I was putting one back in bed, the other one got out.

There was no “next time” this time.

We were going on a good 40 minutes at this point and I was beyond frustrated.

I told them it was naptime. I told them they were not listening. I explained (for the upteenth time) the naptime rules. And then I picked up—picked up—the train table and carried it out the door. Adrenaline kicked in, I suppose. The train table is heavy. But I was a mom determined to get my 2-1/2-year-old twin boys to nap.

They were clearly upset. For a moment, I felt successful.

And then I realized I was a fool.

I had no place to put the train table. I couldn’t leave it propped up against a wall, for fear it would fall on someone. And although I carried it out their bedroom door, I certainly couldn’t carry it down the stairs by myself.

My only other option was to carry it back in.

So I sighed.

And did.

The boys cheered.

And started jumping up and down on their beds again.

My eyes welled up.

Why can’t I do this? I thought. It shouldn’t be this hard.

The train table game began again.

I took the two boards that cover the train table off, and carried them out to the hall.

And then I gave up. I went outside their room and closed the door.

They can just run, I thought. There was nothing in their room to play with at this point except for their beds and their imaginations.

Well, and the door.

They opened the door. Then they slammed the door. They ran, giggled, repeated.

We don’t have a lock on their door. So I held it shut. I stood in the hall pulling the doorknob from one side while they tried to pull it from the other. My eyes welled up again as I had no idea what to do (and this, certainly, was not something that would be recommended in a parenting book).

I knew from the few books I have read that immediate consequences are best. But I was out of immediate consequences. I had taken everything away. Time-outs weren’t working either (I had tried, multiple times, throughout the hour.) Like their beds, they kept running out of them, laughing, as if it were a game, while I was putting the other one back in.

Out of immediate consequences I took away TV, for the rest of the day.

They didn’t care.

I took away dessert after dinner.

They didn’t care.

I tried a traditional time-out, again.

They didn’t care.

So I grabbed them both, sat down with my legs crossed and put them on my lap. I hugged them to me, their arms pinned down.

“This is your new time-out,” I said. It was the only way I could put them in a timeout together and remain in control of the situation.

They squirmed and couldn’t move. I held on. They got upset. I held on. They squirmed some more and kicked their legs. “No kicking,” I said. I held on. They put up a fight. I held on. I held on and on and on, all the time wondering if this was right, if this was appropriate, if this was OK.

In about two minutes, their bodies relaxed. They calmed down. They asked to go to bed.

I released them from my bear hug.

The effect wasn’t immediate. I had to do bear-hug timeouts several more times before they realized they couldn’t get out of bed without getting a timeout in this new fashion.

But then:

I’ve since learned that this bear-hug technique is a real thing and that, for some children, it’s one of the only things that will calm them. Owen and James weren’t out-of-control screaming. They weren’t even throwing tantrums. But they weren’t listening. They were laughing at me, which I find more difficult to deal with than tantrums. And none of the consequences they received for their actions made a difference—except the bear-hug timeout.

Today James quickly lost his toy, book and bear. Owen lost his toy and bear, and then threw his book out of the bed before I had a chance to take it from him (sigh). They’ve both had a couple bear-hug timeouts and they’re still awake, although James is lying down and his eyes are heavy-lidded.

But at least I have another tool. Another technique. It’s not magic, it’s not perfect, but it helps.

An online search revealed little in terms of books on disciplining twin toddlers. If you have one to recommend, or techniques to recommend, I’m all ears.

“I will not play at tug o’ war
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs.” —Shel Silverstein

Big Boy Beds

I loved these cribs. In the beginning, I wished they matched. I always envisioned a twin nursery with matching twin cribs. But the white crib was free—thanks to Facebook and a friend of a friend—and that’s what our budget, at the time, allowed. In the end, I loved them. James slept in the painted white crib. Owen, in the maple one. When the boys were first born both cribs were in our bedroom. You, literally, had to suck in your stomach to move around that room—it was so tight. And so full of deep exhaustion and deep, deep love. In our new house, this house, there was more room. Room to stand between the cribs and read a bedtime story. Room to sit in a rocking chair reading a book (thanks to summer’s lengthy sun hours), waiting for Owen and James to sleep. Room for the rug that was in Sophie’s nursery. Room for fuzzy, happy, frustrating, loving memories.

I was worried the boys would be upset. But they were thrilled to use their tools to help take the cribs apart. This meant a much longer (and trying) process for Andy, but he was understanding.

And then, of course, they had to test them out—this time matching beds, thanks to Craigslist.

Two days later, we discovered a design flaw.

This has happened several times, in part because James knows we have to come upstairs and help him, when it’s nap or bedtime—he does it on purpose.

Still, the boys love them.

We gave the white painted crib away, paying it forward, as they say. And we sold the maple crib and changing table this past weekend. To a couple so eager and already, so seemingly in love with their child-to-be. It’s right, to pass these things along. To grow older. To move on. And yet, it’s bittersweet.

As is raising children, in general.

“O bed! O bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head.” —Thomas Hood

Cherry Scented Sleep

Sophie’s scheduled to have surgery tomorrow. She has an inguinal hernia. It’s minor, outpatient surgery—the actual operation only lasts about 45 minutes. I had the same surgery when I was 6.

One of the biggest comforts in my life has been my dad always saying he would take on any illness, surgery or procedure for me, if he could. I always understood the love in those statements and now, I find myself repeating them.

We bought and read Sophie the book, Franklin Goes to the Hospital. She loves being read to but often she’s fidgety. However, she was perfectly still during the entire length of this book, and so quiet after—even when we tried to talk to her about it.

We took her on a tour of the hospital—Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus. It was wonderful. She practiced being weighed and having her blood pressure taken. She sat on the bed that she will be wheeled in from the prep room to the room in which she’s given the medicine to be put to sleep. She got to smell all the different scents she can choose from—bubble gum, grape and, her favorite, cherry. She got to practice putting the mask on a doll on a bed. She got to ride around in the wheelchair she’ll sit in when leaving the hospital. She loved it.

They sent her home with goodies, for her and the boys—gloves, masks, hospital cap, gas mask, disposable thermometer and coloring pages. Since then, every so often I’ll peek into her bedroom when she has the door closed and I’ll see this:

When I ask her the scent her baby doll chooses to go to sleep, she always says, “all of them.” She then pretends to cut, then cuddles her doll baby—her doll baby always gets through the operation just fine, as I’m sure Sophie will, too.

I get to hold her, well, one of us gets to hold but I think Andy knows I’m, selfishly, wanting to do it, while she’s put to sleep. And we get to be there when she wakes up.

She’ll be fine. They do these all the time. It’s so minor. We’ll most likely be home in time for dinner and she’ll most likely be back at school, running around, on Monday.

Still, I’d do it for her in heartbeat, if I could.

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” —John Steinbeck

A Shoulder To Lean On

Now that we’ve moved Owen and James to twin beds, they’re no longer napping—but they still need to nap. And I need for them to nap. They’re exhausted. I’m exhausted. It’s been a fight-back-tears and escape-to-my-bedroom-to-hide-underneath-my-down-comforter-as-soon-as-Andy-gets-home two weeks.

Today, in particular, was tough. James only spoke in whine. At first I tried to ignore it. That only seemed to escalate it. So I addressed it. I told him I wouldn’t respond to his requests unless he asked nicely and talked in a normal voice. He would whine some more. I wouldn’t budge. And then he would throw a mini fit. I’d remind him of what he needed to do. He’d ask nicely—normal voice, with a “please.” Two seconds later? Back to the whine. All.day.long.

This was in between the boys’ fighting, over everything. All.day.long.

Owen, in particular, likes to “dupe” James. He pokes him, anywhere (stomach, head, eye, arm, leg) and says “dupe!” and then giggles. James does not appreciate this. When I scold Owen, he says, “But I have to dupe him! I just have to!”

OWEN! JAMES! JUST STOP!” I said, completely and totally exasperated, more than once today.

They just stared. Every time. And went back to whining. And duping. And crying about not being able to have a Christmas cookie at 9:30 in the morning.

James, eventually exhausted, fell asleep on the couch, upright, clinging to the crust of some buttered bread, head way back, mouth slightly open. (This was about 4:30pm.) Sophie and Owen were playing grocery store upstairs. I purchased a few things—a Rubik’s cube, a pink plastic princess cell phone and a Wonder Pets figurine—and put them in a plastic, singing, much-too-low-for-me shopping cart. I pushed my purchases into the hallway. Then, I lied. I said that James was asleep on the couch (true) and that I needed to sit next to him to make sure he didn’t fall off (not true).

“Aw, James is sleeping?” Owen said so sweetly, forming his lips into a perfect “o,” his head cocked to one side.

“Yes,” I said, grateful that he was (finally) sleeping and thankful that Sophie and Owen were (finally) playing, happily.

I went downstairs and sat next to James on the couch. No TV, no computer, no book. I just sat. And I wondered how any of us were going to survive these next few weeks without a daily “break,” (for me) and without a daily nap (for them).

I watched James. I watched as the day’s stresses slowly pushed his head to the side, down and down and down until he’d startle and pop it back up. This happened again and again. He seemed calm and peaceful—for the first time today—except for the head bobbing.

So the next time his head popped back up, I scooted next to him. Once again, down his head came. But this time, my shoulder was there. He settled into me and finally, without fight, sunk into a deep sleep.

After a day in which I felt like I was failing him, over and over again, I felt successful. And I felt needed—not for a cup of milk or a too-high toy or another TV show—but for me. Just me. And for the first time today, that was enough.

I hope my shoulder is enough in years to come, as life stresses grow and widen and mature, as things become more complex in a different way. And as my children’s circles grow, I hope they find other shoulders to lean on—friends, colleagues, lovers—shoulders that help bear the weight of this often difficult and trying world. I imagine my shoulder will feel empty, initially. But I also hope they’ll remember it’s there, even as adults, even when Andy and I aren’t the only people they can—and want—to turn to. And I hope, as my children grow, I’ll find new heads for my shoulder to support just as I hope to constantly be finding new places to rest mine.

It’s almost 9pm. Andy strung Christmas lights in the boys’ room, trying to make a, for the most part, unhappy day better. There was initial excitement, wonder, even, but now we’re back to the same-old. No one is sleeping. Every five minutes or so we hear the pad-pad-pad of footed pjs walking around the hallway upstairs. They get out of bed. We put them back in. There are tears. Eventually their pillows will bear the weights of their heads tonight. Eventually. And when that time comes there will be a role reversal and I will be thankful to have someplace to rest mine.

“The burden is light on the shoulder of another.” —Russian Proverb

Two Little Monkeys …

After finding James perched on his crib rail, much like a bird on a tree limb, we decided it was time to put the boys in their twin beds.

It’s going well.

“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” —JoJo Jensen

The Things We Sleep With

I remember the stuffed animals and dolls I slept with, when I was little. I remember making caves for them with my blanket and legs. I remember feeling guilty about who slept next to me, who did not, and who fell to the floor in the middle of the night. My grandma once told me a story about my aunt taking her new shoes to bed with her. One of my favorite scenes in the movie “A Christmas Story” is when both brothers go to bed with their Christmas treasures. Since Sophie was a baby she has gone to bed not only with stuffed animals, but with the bedtime stories she chooses for the night. The boys have begun insisting on sleeping with their favorite car of the day. And James must have the quilt Nini made for him when he was in the NICU. And Owen must have his favorite book, “Goodnight Moon.” There is a comfort in sleeping with something, someone, you love.

The day after Sophie turned 4 she saw a play—”Rapunzel”—at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati with her Grandma and Paw Paw (a birthday gift from her parents). She loved it. She still talks about the actors who ran off the stage, with the same enthusiasm and awe as I retold the story of the children running out from underneath Mother Gigogne’s skirt in “The Nutcracker,”—a play I saw with my mom and grandma when I was about Sophie’s age. I still have the souvenir playbook from the ballet—I put it out every Christmas. At the end of “Rapunzel,” Grandma bought Sophie a tiara.

She loves it.

Obviously.

‘There is a latent fairy in all women, but look how carefully we have to secrete her in order to be taken seriously. And fairies come in all shapes, colors, sizes and types, they don’t have to be fluffy. They can be demanding and furious if hey like. They do, however, have to wear a tiara. That much is compulsory.” —Dawn French

The Middle-of-the-Night Cold

Sophie is:

wide awake at 10:53pm

watching the all-hours Sprouts channel (so this is why they play children’s shows so late at night)

in our bed

sweaty but cold

rubbing her always-watering eyes endlessly

making awful sounds when she breathes.

She calms, for a few moments, then sits up, a sobbing mess.

She says:

“My eyes! They just keep watering every time I try to settle down!”

“This medicine [children’s Claritin, we thought it was allergies due to the fact that we were outside all day and her eyes were so watery] isn’t doing anything!”

“I can’t stop crying!”

“My nose! I need a tissue! My nose!”

“Mommy, I just don’t want to be sick!”

I scratch her back. Revisit her favorite lullaby. Listen to her snore softly, during the few minutes she’s asleep, before the next coughing fit starts. Wonder what it would be like to have all three kids like this, in the middle of the night, at once. Knock on wood (literally) after thinking such thoughts. Wonder where Andy is going to sleep tonight. Wonder how parents do this with children who are sick often or sick always. Wonder what tomorrow will bring. Wonder what the next hour will bring. Wonder if I will get sick. Wonder why we, as a species, get sick period. Wonder who wrote “The Nightly Clean-up Song,” which is on Sprout right now. Wonder why I’m watching Sprout and not something else given that Sophie is, thankfully, sleeping, clutching her tissue as she would a doll.

If the last hour has taught me anything, though, she’ll be up again soon. With a raspy cough. Or tear-soaked cheeks. Or the basic discomfort that comes with every common cold and the realization, now that she’s older, that there’s little to be done. It happens to everyone. That it’s not fun.

I try to remember everything my mom did, and my dad did, when I was little and sick. There was Sprite. And Saltines. Rare one-on-one time with the parent who stayed home from work. Board games. A thermometer that beeped. Medicine in a plastic alligator spoon. All-day PJs. All-day TV. A fitted sheet on the couch. A brass bell. Back scratches. Lots of back scratches.

I won’t tell her it changes. That childhood sickness, while much dramatized (she’s 4), is way better than adult sickness—if only because you’re the child, not the adult. I imagine I’m not alone when I admit to wishing I was 7, when it’s the middle of the night and I’m in the throes of a terrible—yet minor—cold. Because no matter how helpful a spouse is during sickness, it’s not the same as a parent. It’s just not.

I may no longer receive, in the same way I did as a child, but I can give, in the same way I was given as a child.

And so I will.

I didn’t know it would be like this, before children—the up all night listening to the soft, little moans that make my chest hurt. My dad often said, whenever I was sick, that he wished he could take it for me.

At the time, I thought he was crazy.

I understand that now.

“From the bitterness of disease man learns the sweetness of health.” —Catalan Proverb